U of Technology Sydney and Agilent Establish Metallomics Facility

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) has partnered with Agilent Technologies, which produces analytical instrumentation, to establish a research facility to study trace metals and other elements in tissue, and their effects on health.

The UTS Elemental Bio-Imaging Facility opened on June 27 to develop new methods of imaging small amounts of metals, trace elements, and other elements in tissues, in the search for new ways to diagnose certain serious diseases and to understand drug actions and drug side effects. This new field of study is called "metallomics."

"The basic technology, laser ablation--ICPMS [inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry]--has been used in analytical laboratories for quite some time for forensic applications and to study the composition of rocks," said Rudolf Grimm, a director for Agilent. "What's novel about this effort is using the technology in new ways to study how iron or zinc and their particular isotopes, for example, affect the condition of brain or heart tissue. I've been imagining the potential of this approach for about four years, and now we have the right collaborator to investigate it in-depth."

The toxic effects of large doses of metal are well known, but little is understood about trace amounts.

"These techniques can probe the mechanism, progression, and treatment of many disorders such as heart disease and osteoarthritis, and also detect the spread of cancer, such as melanoma in lymph nodes," said Philip Doble, senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Forensic Science, UTS Faculty of Science.

UTS is providing the facility and scientific staff to perform the research. Its researchers have developed a new imaging technique that accurately maps deposits of trace metals in biological tissues and converts them into 2D visual images. This enables the study of metals and their interactions with proteins in the body.

"Using the latest ICP-MS, researchers place a slice of human tissue on a plate, pop it into a sample chamber and zap it with a laser," said Doble. "The tissue sample is vaporized and swept to a plasma at 80,000K. This breaks the sample into its elemental components, giving a direct chemical analysis of the entire sample that can be seen as an image rather than as a series of numbers.

Agilent will provide equipment, as well as funding and technical consulting to the effort.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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